History of the quarries
Harmers Wood has four quarries dating back 200 years with sandstone being excavated by hand. The stone was used in the local buildings around Helsby. The formation of the sandstone under the wood is from the Triassic period between 225 and 190 million years ago. From research at Chester Library looking at the original letters and documents in the archives, the story can be told of Ben's Quarry - near the centre of the wood.
On 15th March 1830, Benjamin Morris, a builder from Alvanley approached Mr Jones of Cholmondeley Estate requesting permission to open a quarry in the wood. The land around the wood at that time was farmed by a tenant farmer called Cobbe. It would take some time before negotiations would be completed to allow the stone to be cut.
In December 1830, Benjamin wrote to Mr Jones stating that stone cutters would not work for less than 4 shillings a day. He set out the quantities needed to be cut to make a living:-
- 24 feet per cutter
- 168 feet per day
- 1008 feet per week which was worth £25 4 shillings 0 pence.
On 12th March 1831 Benjamin finally made an agreement with Jones for the renting and working of a stone quarry to commence on 25th March 1831.
Benjamin agreed to rent a crane with a gang of 7 men to work the quarry and to pay the Marquis of Cholmondeley the sum of £54 per year made in two six month instalments.
The same amount would be made for the same size of crews if he wished to expand the operation.
The quarry was stipulated to be 12 feet 7 inches x 16 feet 5 inches x 17 feet 3 inches.
On 26th April 1832 all parties agreed to close the quarry but Benjamin was allowed to still remove the depth of stone already flayed.
Two years later, on 25th March 1834 a new agreement was reached between Benjamin Morris, a stone mason for 14 years and his engineer Mr Edward Smith of Runcorn with Mr George Horatio May of Cholmondeley to quarry over another part of Harmers Wood measuring 4 acres.
It is likely that the two quarries referred to in the agreement are those closest to Hill Road North. Quarry 'A' was for 26 years at £38. Quarry 'B' was for 33 years at £41 7s 6d.
Between 1868-70 the Earl of Cholmondeley donated stone from Ben's Quarry free of charge to the "poor people of Helsby" to build St Paul's Church, the Vicarage and all the boundary walls. He also donated the land and £100 towards the construction with John Douglas as architect. A steam crane and seven men were used to cut the stone, which was then carted down into the village at the rate of 7 shillings per load with one horse or 10 shillings for two horse loads. On land opposite the Harmers Wood car park, a cottage once stood called Toothill Beer House which sold watered down ale for the quarrymen to drink to quench their thirst since there was no running water available.
The stone cutters needed the harder 'white' sandstone rather than the red which is softer. For each block of stone that was quarried there would be a large amount of waste from stone breaking and the chippings, as the blocks were squared off for building materials. This created the huge spoil heap seen a short distance from Ben's Quarry.
Entrance to Ben's Quarry
St. Paul's Church in Helsby
On 30th June 1832, Benjamin contacted Mr Jones again stating that he had sunk a well and flayed a piece of rock adjoining the well but it was too expensive to continue since he required white sandstone and there was too much red sandstone. He requested that a surveyor, Mr Humphries come and look at the situation.
Quarrymen with a steam crane from 1830's